Republican, conservative activist
The rise of soft money has been the most disturbing trend in campaign finance in the 1990s. The idea that groups and individuals can inject unlimited, unregulated amounts of money (allegedly for "party building") into campaigns for federal office has made a mockery of the post-Watergate reforms enacted in 1974. The fatal flaw of the 1974 law is the capping of individual contributions at $1,000 per person--never adjusted or indexed for inflation. This has made Senate and House incumbents very difficult to beat, and has meant that non-incumbent candidates not personally wealthy or closely connected to the party establishment are finding it increasingly difficult to mount serious campaigns.
I believe soft money, whether by corporations, unions, interest groups or individuals, should be prohibited. But to make such a ban work, reformers must accept the simple fact that if we want competitive elections, the ability of candidates to raise large amounts of money from individuals and from fully regulated political action committees is a good thing, not a bad thing. The limit on individual contributions should be raised to $5,000 and indexed against future inflation. The limit on contributions by political action committees should be raised from $5,000 to $10,000 and indexed. I do not favor putting restrictions on "issue ads." The American people should have the right to express their opinions under the First Amendment. But encouraging people and groups who care about issues to advance their beliefs by supporting candidates they agree with will go nowhere until campaign contributions can once again be large enough to make a difference in our elections.
Democrat, former New Jersey senator
I am running for president because I want an American democracy that invests in the future of its children by lifting them out of poverty and offering every child--every child--a decent education. I want more Americans to have good health care. I want to heal the racial divide that short-circuits our national potential. I want to be the good steward of a good economy in which working Americans of all incomes can become financially secure.
But I know to achieve any of these things, we need a healthy democratic process. A process in which everyone's voice can be heard, where dissent is respected and candidates run on the strength of their ideas--not the weight of their wallets.
That is why I advocate comprehensive campaign finance reform, to make our democracy work for people again. In July, I laid out my proposals, which include:
* Public financing of congressional general elections, with federal funding on a matching basis for small contributions in the primary and overall spending limits.
* A ban on soft money contributions to national party committees.
* Free broadcast time for federal candidates.
* Same-day voter registration and voting by mail.
We spend nearly $900 million a year promoting democracy abroad, and that's important. But for about the same amount of money annually, we could take all the special interests out of American politics. That is the best possible investment for returning democracy to the people.
Some say these kinds of reform are too big. To the doubters, I say two things: Don't underestimate the politicians, who are by and large good people who know they are caught in a bad system and yearn for a way out. More importantly, don't underestimate the people. Throughout this campaign I have talked to people who want to believe they can be part of something bigger than themselves. They want the wall of money to come down. They want to believe in democracy again.
PATRICK J. BUCHANAN
Republican, political commentator
It is time to ring down the curtain on the glorified bribery that now passes for campaign financing and cleanse our capital city of the buying and selling of public policy.
A Buchanan administration would
1) Outlaw "soft money" contributions to political parties, 2) Prohibit campaign contributions from corporate political action committees to candidates for federal office, 3) Require House and Senate candidates to raise most of their campaign contributions from their own district or state so that their allegiance belongs to those they are elected to represent, 4) Require Cabinet, sub-Cabinet and White House staff to abide by a five-year ban on all lobbying and pledge never to work on behalf of a foreign government.
GEORGE W. BUSH
Republican, Texas governor
Saying that he wants his campaign to live by his own campaign finance reform proposal of full and rapid disclosure, Gov. George W. Bush has taken the lead by becoming the first presidential candidate in history to disclose campaign contributions daily.
This disclosure at www.georgewbush.com provides a daily Web posting of every contributor's name, city, state, occupation, employer and total contributions to date. The list is time-delayed by two weeks as the campaign deposits the checks and enters the contribution information into its database.
Gov. Bush announced this new process saying, "By daily posting an updated list of contributors on my Web site, Americans will be able to look for themselves to find out that people from all walks of life and from all parts of the country are supporting my campaign."
Gov. Bush also supports a ban on soft money contributions from corporations and labor unions with a "paycheck protection" law because shareholders and union members have no say in how these contributions are spent. "Paycheck protection" would require unions to get permission from each union member before using union dues for political purposes.
He also supports raising the individual federal contribution limit from the $1,000 per person maximum that was set in 1974; this would make it easier for a greater variety of candidates to raise money and help more candidates become viable and competitive in the election process.
Republican, former Cabinet secretary and president of American Red Cross
Full disclosure is the essential element of meaningful campaign finance reform. I strongly support disclosure and have posted my Federal Election Commission report on my Web site (www.edole2000.org) for all to review. Additionally, contribution limits should be raised. If the current limit of $1,000 per individual had been indexed for inflation since 1974, it would now be over $3,300. I believe soft money given by corporations and unions should be eliminated. It is critical, however, that this be done fairly and in a manner that creates a level political playing field.
Campaign finance reform must not be a Trojan horse for more Washington politics as usual.
Incumbent protection bills like the McCain-Feingold bill and the Shays-Meehan bill are disasters--unconstitutional and unfair. They would drastically curtail free speech and grass-roots activism and empower the lawyers, lobbyists and lifetime politicians.
My approach is: Trust the people. That's why I support Rep. John Doolittle's bill. It's so effective and simple, Washington will instinctively turn away from it in sheer horror. Doolittle would repeal the limits on how much money individuals can contribute to candidates or to political parties as long as there is full and prompt public disclosure. That way everyone can see if candidates have sold their souls to a particular individual or special interest group.
The current rules are rigged in favor of powerful incumbents. Most challengers outside the political system don't have the vast networks necessary to put together the resources to run against an incumbent, unless they are wealthy. The rules also push politicos to engage in subterfuges like soft money and bogus independent expenditure committees.
Under Doolittle's proposal, campaigns and candidates would have to file reports electronically to the Federal Election Commission every 24 hours during the three months preceding an election. These reports would go immediately on the Internet. Contributions could not be accepted unless they were accompanied by full disclosure about the donor. Under current law, campaigns can cash checks even if legally required information about donors is missing.
Democrat, vice president
Our campaign finance system is broken and needs fixing now. While the cost of campaigns has skyrocketed and new technologies have changed the way campaigns are run, our campaign finance laws have not been overhauled in more than a generation. That is why I have consistently supported bipartisan legislation that would ban "soft money," improve disclosure of issue-advocacy and increase the enforcement authority of the Federal Election Commission. This legislation recently passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority and has the support of a majority in the Senate.
But this legislation is only the first step. We need to radically change the current system. I believe real, comprehensive reform must lead to a reduction in the cost of campaigns, eliminate the influence of special interests, level the playing field between challengers and incumbents, and open the airwaves to debates of the issues important to the American people.
As a senator, I introduced legislation that would have provided free broadcast time for candidates. As president, I would fight for enactment of this kind of legislation, require immediate disclosure of campaign contributions and real enforcement of our campaign finance laws.
The American people deserve a better system, a system that rewards ideas, character and leadership, not the size of each candidate's bank accounts.
As president, I will fight to change this system to reduce the role of money and special interests and restore faith in our democracy.
Republican, Utah senator
People must have confidence in the integrity of our election process. But, even at best, the legislation offered by Sens. McCain and Feingold fails to achieve its objective. Restricting the ability of political parties to support their candidates will merely increase the influence of unregulated entities making independent expenditures, undertaking issue advocacy campaigns, and other nonparty interests.
At worst, it will damage the healthy competition between our two political parties. This competition of ideas is essential to a deliberative legislative process.
In my view, the credibility gap that exists between candidates and citizens can best be addressed with more and better information. Knowledge is power. I want to give power to the voters to make their judgments. Let voters set their own standards for how much influence is too much.
I will introduce the "Citizens' Right to Know Act," to require every candidate for president, House and Senate to maintain a publicly accessible Web site disclosing within 14 days every contribution received and every expenditure made over $50. This includes soft money contributions to parties and from parties.
Finally, special interest PACs were created as a response to the law's limits on contributions. My bill raises the limits to adjust for 27 years of inflation. Most importantly, it makes the value of an individual contribution equal to that of a special interest PAC.
Sound campaign reform will give individual citizens the lead role in elections. My proposal would achieve this goal.
Republican, former State Department official
Campaigns should be financed by citizens alone, with no limits and no secrets. Only those with a ballot vote should get a dollar vote. Exclude all other contributions--from corporations, unions and illegitimate PACs. Only individuals who are allowed to vote should be allowed to contribute.
Require immediate public disclosure of all contributions.
End the outrageous and unconstitutional restrictions on the amounts that individual American citizens can spend to support the political candidates of their choice. Individual citizens can now give $1,000 at most to a candidate; noncitizen entities can give much more. This ensures that noncitizens like corporations will have greater influence than citizens. Under this perverse arrangement, the fundamental privilege of the citizen to influence American politics is shackled, while the noncitizens--the corporations, labor unions and illegitimate PACs--are able to leverage their money to get influence and political advantage.
An illegitimate PAC is a political action committee that channels the support of noncitizens--whether corporations or other noncitizen interests--into our political system. These illegitimate PACs look like true PACs but are not--because they are not the agents of voting citizens, but of other entities and interests that simply cannot be trusted to put American principle first, as voting citizens will.
This proposal will strike at the heart of special-interest, anti-citizen campaign financing. It will eliminate ALL favors to corporations, labor unions and illegitimate PACs. It will restore the importance of the citizen supporter and fill the vacuum that has so dangerously attracted foreign money as well.
Republican, Arizona senator
Americans' cynicism about government is born of many factors, but none greater than our defense of a campaign finance system that is little more than an elaborate influence-peddling scheme in which both parties conspire to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder.
I have fought to ban soft money--the enormous sums of money given to both parties by labor bosses, giant corporations and even foreign interests-- because it corrupts our political ideals and our ability to address the problems that directly affect the lives of every American. Doing so will help restore public confidence that government serves the national interest rather than the well-heeled special interests that fund our campaigns.
With the money we would save from ending the corporate welfare that flows from soft money contributions, we could support a three-year school voucher test in almost all of the largest school districts in America. Campaign finance reform would also do away with the greatest obstacle to comprehensive tax reform: the temptation to put tax loopholes for special interests ahead of tax relief for working families. And a defense policy no longer driven by soft money contributions wouldn't waste billions of dollars on useless weapons systems while 12,000 enlisted personnel live on food stamps.
The hard truth is we won't reform anything until we first reform the way we finance our political campaigns. Until we abolish soft money, Americans will never have a government that works as hard for them as it does for the special interests.
Former Republican, New Hampshire senator
The Constitution allows for citizens to freely contribute to or withhold money from the candidates of their choice. The First Amendment to the Constitution states the Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech and the Supreme Court has ruled in Buckley v. Valeo that campaign contributions are considered speech. Sen. McCain's plan clearly violates a person's First Amendment right.
The problem with elections today is not the average citizen supporting his candidate. The problem is the federal government. The government is too big and has its hands in every facet of our society, creating an atmosphere of centralized--and therefore corrupt--power. It is not up to the government to limit the people, it is up to the people to limit government.
The way to minimize corruption in the electoral process is to return the power back to the individual, not give the government more control over people's money.
I support the right of The Washington Post and other individuals in the media to put as much space, time and money in as they wish to attack or support candidates. I also believe that individuals other than news media have the same right under the First Amendment, including those who want to contribute to the candidate of their choice.